Teamwork Wins

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the news and action items, here’s a bit of inspiration. Just this morning (March 13), Rebecca Farley, the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the National Council for Behavioral Health, announced during a talk in Washington that our calls are working. She said that we – you, and me, and all of the amazing people on our citizen activist team – are stalling the ACA process through our activism and attention. Collectively, our teamwork is winning the battle against repeal. And if our team of citizen activists is stalling the ACA process – something that the GOP ran entire campaigns on – then we can pretty much do anything, can’t we?

I think so, too.

So let’s get to it! Go team!

Tuesday: Let your Senators know that you’re really paying attention.

On March 15 the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee will hold a hearing to consider Russian sanctions and “next steps”.  Back on March 2, the ranking member of that Committee, Sherrod Brown, sent  a letter to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin asking him to assess conflicts of interest and impact of sanctions on the Trump organization. Could the impact of Russian sanctions on the Trump organization come up on Wednesday? Maybe so – if Senator Brown has anything to say about it. If your Senator is on that committee, now would be a good time to call and ask questions relating to Trump’s business interests, how they might be intertwined with Russia, and whether the Senator supports continued Russian sanctions.

Here’s the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee Membership, with hyperlinks to each Senator’s website:

Republican Democrat
Michael Crapo Chairman (R-ID) Sherrod Brown Ranking Member (D-OH)
Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) Jack Reed (D-RI)
Bob Corker (R-TN) Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA) Jon Tester (D-MT)
Dean Heller (R-NV) Mark R. Warner (D-VA)
Tim Scott (R-SC) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Ben Sasse (R-NE) Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Tom Cotton (R-AR) Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
Mike Rounds (R-SD) Brian Schatz (D-HI)
David Perdue (R-GA) Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Thom Tillis (R-NC) Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
John Kennedy (R-LA)  

Script: My name is ____ and I’m a constituent of Senator ____. Because he/she is on the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, I wanted to call and let the Senator know that I’ll be paying close attention to the committee’s hearing on Russian sanctions and next steps on Wednesday. With this administration’s  numerous Russian contacts, Trump’s undisclosed business ties to Russia, and so many other unanswered questions, I would be greatly troubled if Russian sanctions were eliminated or reduced. I expect Senator ____ to act as a check and balance on this new administration. You can let him/her know that I’ll be watching on Wednesday.

Wednesday: Oppose repeal of the ACA

Today I got a good giggle. Ann Wagner, conservative darling of Missouri that she is, sent out a newsletter championing the ACA replacement as being “fiscally conservative.”

I laughed out loud.

The bill literally just got its Congressional Budget Office “score.” Feedback to that analysis has been interesting, to say the least. And although the CBO believes the bill would actually decrease the deficit over ten years, that’s because it’s going to result in more people being uninsured. Lots more. Like, 14 million more in 2018 alone.

Hey, just in time for midterms!

To review recent coverage of the ACA: over 2/3 of Americans oppose repeal, and 38% say they want it to cover more – not less. The repeal bill gives billions in tax cuts to the wealthy while stripping health care from the neediest Americans. The bill has been slammed by everyone from the AARP to conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation. And, although the GOP would have you believe that the entire nation is drowning in ACA premium increases, in reality, only three percent of Americans have a problem with rising premiums due to the ACA.

So we are changing the ACA because … why?

One last note: Although the GOP markets itself as the party of fiscal conservatives, two House committees voted the bill through without even having the CBO score. (Energy and Commerce, and House Ways and Means.) I should note that in both instances, the vote was on straight party lines – GOP voting in favor of the bill even without fiscal impact information. You can see membership of Ways and Means membership here, and Energy and Commerce here. If your representative voted for the bill, you can give him/her an earful for acting so irresponsibly. (Missouri readers, both Billy Long and Jason Smith voted it out of committee – so they deserve some feedback.)

Call: Your representative. (Find him or her here)

Script: My name is ____ and I live in zip code ____. I am calling to urge Representative ____ to vote against the repeal of the ACA. What is his/her position? If they say they don’t know, or are in favor of repeal, say: I am very disappointed that Representative ___ is willing to take health insurance away from so many Americans and increase costs for seniors – all while giving the wealthiest Americans a huge tax break. Hospitals, doctors, nurses, the AARP and even the Heritage foundation have come out against this bill. I have no idea why Representative ___ would vote in favor of this bill, but it’s certainly not because it is good for his/her constituents. The next legislative recess is coming up soon; when is Representative ___’s next town hall?  He/she can plan on seeing me there. Thanks for your time.

Bonus action! The White House has asked for feedback on the ACA and asking folks to describe how this “disaster” has impacted them. Let’s provide some of our own experiences, shall we? Go here to fill out the survey.

Thursday: Oppose the new Muslim ban by arming yourself with information

On March 16th, we’ll have a shiny brand new Muslim ban to oppose. Get out your marching shoes! The administration claims that this new ban resolves “technical difficulties” (I’m not making that up, they really said that) that were pointed out by courts; in substance, it doesn’t change much.

So Thursday’s action is literally to get a bit into the weeds about what our refugee process is, and why this ban does nothing to help make us safer. (If you want to read on now, then you’ll have already done your Thursday action, you overachiever, you! It’s a 3-4 minute read.)

According to the new EO’s stated rationale “[r]ecent history shows that some of those who have entered the United States through our immigration system have proved to be threats to our national security.” It then goes on to cite two instances of refugees attempting to commit terrorist acts. Well… Lest we allow our GOP friends and family to be led astray here with “alternative facts,” it’s important to know the details of the two cases cited by the EO. The first involves two Iraqi refugees that were resettled to the U.S. in 2009. (As an aside, those men were resettled in Bowling Green, Ky. – which is the origin of KellyAnne Conway’s bizarre reference to the town in her justification for the original EO.)  After they had already arrived in the U.S. and gotten settled, a tip led the FBI to investigate one of them, whose fingerprints were found on an IED that had been detonated in Iraq. Again, the FBI confirmed the suspect’s terrorist connections through fingerprints on an exploded IED – truly impressive investigative work that should give us comfort that our security agencies are not the bumbling idiots that the new administration would have us believe. The two Iraqis were investigated, arrested and charged without having yet committed a terrorist act, but their entry into the U.S. through the refugee system led to an overhaul of that very system.  Notably, although both of the Iraqis were charged with terrorist crimes, neither was charged with plotting attacks in the United States.

The other circumstance cited by the administration involved a Somali refugee who entered the U.S. as a refugee when he was 5 years old. The EO states: “[I]n October 2014, a native of Somalia who had been brought to the United States as a child refugee and later became a naturalized United States citizen was sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction as part of a plot to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon”. The United States Attorney who prosecuted that case was disturbed that it was referenced in the EO, said the defendant’s refugee status had nothing to do with the case, and noted the importance of the cooperation of the Somali refugee community in helping the investigation and prosecution. The FBI was tipped off to his potential radicalization by his parents – who obviously were also refugees. By all accounts, until his radicalization, this U.S. citizen was a typical teen who goofed around and wrote poetry and recorded music on his computer.

So, the two instances the administration highlights in its EO as support for the ban actually prove that the ban won’t be helpful at all. The first situation involved Iraqis (who are no longer on the “ban” list) and happened before the refugee system was overhauled in 2011 in response to that very situation. The second involved a kid who arrived as a 5 year old, and who was radicalized over ten years later, after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. Although we are right to be concerned about that kind of radicalization, no additional vetting is going to tip us off about what a five year old is going to be like in 10 years. (I should note that his father is a professor who speaks five languages and the entire family is said to be warm and loving; as they turned in their own son, I don’t think we can question their parenting, patriotism or motives.)

The Obama administration recognized this brand of post-arrival radicalization as being a particular threat. But the Department of Homeland Security’s report on the issue suggested working with refugee communities more – not less – in order to combat feelings of isolation that could feed into the radicalization narrative used by terrorist organizations. So the very isolationist policies embraced by this administration do nothing to reduce the risk that an already-radicalized person comes into our country – but do a lot to radicalize the people who are already here.

Law and order candidate, indeed.

So, this EO remains a bad idea no matter what way you look at it. The ACLU is already in the fray and a number of states Attorneys General are sharpening their litigation knives, so hopefully this baby will be cut up into a million pieces in short order. But that doesn’t change the message the EO sends to citizens here and abroad, and it’s up to you and me to tell our neighbors and allies that this is not what Americans stand for.

So, what can you do? The most important thing you can do is to combat the misinformation that will certainly be spread once the order is implemented. When your friends or family say that the EO is essential to protect us, now you can explain why that’s not true, and why it makes us less – not more – safe. (I’ll add here that a new potential policy to separate mothers and children at the border similarly has no basis in discouraging illegal entry into the U.S., but seems likely to traumatize and isolate immigrant children which may lead to radicalization in later years.)

Protest, march, or find creative and visible ways of showing your support for the refugee and immigrant communities. Now more than ever it’s important for us to show them just how important they are to our country. Find an organization near you that supports immigrant rights and services here.

Friday: Continue to push for an independent investigation into Russia.

I feel like such a broken record. But I simply cannot back down from this major, democracy bending issue, until we have more answers and a transparent process. Maybe it feels a little tedious to continue asking for the same thing, but until we get what we want I just don’t think we can let up on this one.

Call: Your senators. First check here to see if your Senator is one of the 24 co-sponsors.

Script (Senator): Hello, my name is _____. I’m calling to again ask that Senator ___ support Senate Bill 27, which creates an independent committee to investigate Russian interference and connections. We need a bipartisan, transparent and independent committee to handle this – and Senate Bill 27 provides for that. What is Senator _____’s position on this independent investigation? Does Senator _____ oppose fully and fairly investigating the Russian interference in the election?  Has the Senator publicly supported an independent investigation? If not, why not? If so, why hasn’t the Senator co-signed Senate Bill 27?

Okay, friends. Let’s get to work.
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Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. ~Helen Keller



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